New Scripps Foundation President
Speaks Out

Cary W. Colwell, president of the Scripps Foundation for Medicine and Science, the fundraising organization for both The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) and Scripps Health, has now been on the job for almost three months. News &Views spoke with him about the new position and his vision for the future.


News &Views (N&V): How has the transition into this new position been and how has your background helped prepare you for this job?

Colwell: Well, I think the transition has, at least from my perspective, gone very well. I have 12 years experience in higher education, working for both a Big 10 University and a Pac 10 University, and about nine years in health care. So, I have both the academic exposure as well as the health care side. I think that will probably serve me well as I work to support both the health care—the patient care—side of Scripps as well as the academic and the scientific side with The Scripps Research Institute.

N&V: What were those universities?

Colwell: The University of Illinois Foundation and Arizona State University Foundation. I was at both the U of I and at ASU for six years each. I also worked at the Henry Ford Health System, experience which has helped me recognize that Scripps has multiple constituencies—not only geographic locations, but also from the socioeconomic side of the equation.

N&V: So now you're here, what's on the agenda? What are your goals?

Colwell: Well, the first issue at hand is assessing where the greatest potential is for philanthropic private support throughout all of Scripps. And when I say Scripps, I mean TSRI as well as Scripps Health and its various entities. You know, we have an excellent staff in the foundation and outstanding resources. We need to make sure that they are aligned with where our greatest potentials lie. So, we're in the process of looking at the deployment of our resources and making sure that those alignments are going to allow us to be as effective as we possibly can be.

Also, we will be looking across all of the lines of Scripps and assessing what our immediate needs are in the next 18 months or so. For example, in the case of TSRI, we have a window of opportunity to acquire the Immunology Building, and that will be something of a high priority for the foundation. But we will also be determining the programs, the initiatives, the capital that are really going to establish Scripps as the preeminent multifaceted health care research institution in the country over the long term, the next two to seven years. My goal is that the foundation make significant contributions to all of Scripps, so that we really become the preeminent institution of its kind in the country.

N&V: What is your initial assessment of the philanthropic landscape right here?

Colwell: I think we've done a reasonably good job of talking about Scripps to this community. We have a history of significant private support from individuals. But while we have a few individuals who support us in an extraordinary way, overall we don't have a lot of people investing in Scripps as a percentage of the population. So, one area we're going to be focusing on is broadening our base of support. We want to engage as many people in this community with Scripps as we possibly can. So annual funds will be a focus, building our donor base over the next couple of years.

With the exception of TSRI, we have not really initiated a comprehensive corporate foundation and government relations program. The Scripps name, our legacy, allows us to open every door to every corporation, and every foundation, and every government agency in this country. We haven't been opening those doors, so we need to expand our presence in that arena, nationally. And we want to have a stronger presence in Washington D.C., particularly with health and human services. We have an extraordinary array of services that we provide to this community. In the case of TSRI, these efforts have not only national but international significance. And we need to be telling people about that.

You know, Scripps is a very special institution. In many ways, Scripps is probably held in higher regard outside of San Diego County than it is right here. I can tell you that having coming out of the East and the Midwest, Scripps is very well known—and held in very, very high esteem. And sometimes I wonder whether here in San Diego County the community recognizes what a truly special resource we are to the constituencies we serve.

N&V: Or at least understand that we're not in oceanography?

Colwell: That, too...

N&V: Do you anticipate a capital campaign?

Colwell: I don't believe that you will see a grandiose kickoff of a Scripps-wide capital campaign. What you'll see is a series of significant fundraising initiatives, not only at TSRI, but at the hospitals within the Scripps Health system, who will be conducting their own, focused fundraising campaigns. So if you want to call it a campaign, fine. I'm not really into that term, because a campaign represents a defined start and stop date. What we really want to do is to raise the overall level of giving throughout all of Scripps, and sustain that over time. So, while TSRI, while Scripps La Jolla, Mercy, Chula Vista, Encinitas, and Green Hospitals as well as the Scripps Clinic, will all have individual campaigns, if you will, we're not going to have a global, systemwide, "campaign for Scripps."

N&V: Do you think there's some synergy there for fundraising among the different Scripps institutions?

Colwell: Well, I think it helps from the fundraising standpoint because our donors—whether they be individuals or corporations or foundations—have interests that are multidimensional and across the board, across the spectrum. I guess you might say we have a little something for everyone. If we have an individual who's interested in the research component, we have one of the world's finest biomedical research institutions. If the interest is in direct patient care, we offer programs and services of the highest quality. If they're interested in technology, we are on the cutting edge. So there's a synergy from the standpoint that we appeal to a broad audience. In terms of the synergy among our fundraising efforts... I don't know. Scripps Chula Vista Hospital is going to have a different constituency than TSRI. And TSRI's going to have a different constituency than Scripps Hospital in Encinitas. So I don't know that there are any real synergies from a functional operational standpoint. But Scripps is an institution that has broad appeal.

N&V: In terms of the donor base, the local donor base, do you think that there's competition from other, similar nonprofits?

Colwell: Sure.

N&V: Maybe there's a kind of donor fatigue for someone who is already heavily involved with another nonprofit...

Colwell: Well, you know, it's interesting that you mention donor fatigue. We worry about that all the time. We worry that philanthropy has plateaued and that the pool of private revenue sources is drying up. But statistics don't back that up. I think every year for the last 30 years, the total giving in this country has increased. In fact, I think the giving totals, while they're not out for 2001 yet, will show a dramatic increase in charitable support. It will reflect a shift, perhaps, from some of the more traditional recipients to more of the social-service and crisis-relief efforts. But nonetheless, people continue to give. It's amazing. How many times have you seen an individual provide a significant amount of support to one organization and then two years later go on to support another organization? I think the interests of the philanthropic community in San Diego County are diverse. I don't anticipate that changing. We have many donors to Scripps that support other charitable organizations, as well as other health care organizations. Our real job is to inform our donors and the people who may want to consider Scripps as a potential beneficiary of their philanthropy about what we're doing here, what our mission is, what our vision is. Where do we want Scripps to be five years from now, ten years from now? And what's it going to take to get there? And we want to make people feel proud of Scripps and that it is worthy of an investment.

N&V: Do you see philanthropic dollars going the same way as, say, venture capital dollars, as we are in a recession?

Colwell: Not really. People don't give for taxes. They don't give to get a write-off. That's an added benefit. And it certainly is something they consider in determining what types of assets they contribute, when they contribute them, and how they contribute them. But declines in the market historically have not impacted philanthropy in a significant way. Now, we may see people from some of the newer companies, some of the high-tech companies, the dot-coms—where there was enormous, almost immediate creation of wealth, and then a reduction in that—using this time to recover and to retrench. But, the true givers in this country do not stop giving. They give because they believe in what you're doing, they believe in your vision, and they want to make an investment in that. They don't give because their stocks are up 20 percent this year, or because they need a big write-off.

N&V: You came to Scripps after September 11, but do you think that relief efforts for that crisis will drain donations from other nonprofits?

Colwell: It will in the short run. I did a study on this, and there have been numerous studies, as you might imagine, since September 11 on the impact that this tragedy will have in philanthropic support. If you look back in history at crises—Oklahoma City, the assassination of JFK, Pearl Harbor—what you'll find is that overall charitable giving spiked upwards, between five and seven percent, nationally. There is, temporarily, a shift from the traditional recipients–higher education, health care–to more of the human service, social service providers. But the spike in overall giving, two, three, four, ten years out, doesn't correct. It stays up there. Over time, within a period of two to five years, giving shifts back to the traditional recipients of the majority of philanthropic support, the greatest of which are religious-based organizations, but health care and higher education are right behind. So our short-term prognosis for giving in the health care industry is probably not optimistic, but our long-term outlook is very optimistic.

N&V: So do you think people who never gave before start giving?

Colwell: That's exactly what happens. The people who have wealth, who have never really considered themselves philanthropists, or those who give $50 to this and $50 to that but who have never really considered themselves capable of making an impact are emotionally charged to make that first $1,000 gift, or $5,000 gift, or $10,000 gift. Then they find out it feels very good. They have the satisfaction of knowing that, "I helped," and feel good about it. So now we've got a new person who's charged, who's turned on by supporting a charitable organization, and they're hooked forever. And that's what makes this country the most generous in the world.

N&V: What do you enjoy most about your job?

Colwell: I think it's probably meeting the people. We have enormous talent at Scripps, across all turfs. TSRI has some of the most brilliant minds in the world. What has been enoyable for me is the fact that not only do you have this world-class research institute with brilliant minds conducting very, very important science—but they're nice people. I've really enjoyed that. And likewise, throughout Scripps Health, there are just genuinely good people. Without exception, everyone who I've talked to has told me they've loved being at Scripps. Not too many organizations can say that. The other thing is the incredible support and encouragement that I've received from the leadership of TSRI and Scripps Health. They are the finest and most talented leadership that I have seen in my career. The talent, the commitment, the dedication is unsurpassed. I really feel that I have joined a winning team.

N&V: Anything else I've missed?

Colwell: The future of Scripps is very, very bright. People already recognize that the research institute is world-class in nature and a key player in biosciences in the world. While Scripps Health has had its share of difficulties as has every other health care organization in this country, in a few years people are going to look at Scripps as a comprehensive health care institution and go, "Wow."



Go back to News & Views Index

Cary W. Colwell assumed the position of president of the Scripps Foundation for Medicine and Science, the fundraising organization for both TSRI and Scripps Health, in early November 2001.